wxlbanner

This site is to serve two purposes.

1)

In practice, it serves much like notes in the margin for my research. I am a comic book historian, primarily DC Comics with a particular focus on the Green Lanterns. As a historian, most of my work has concentrated on the twentieth century. Prior to my focus on comic books, I would not have considered myself much of a U.S. historian. My degrees are in European History and World History, so the United States has appeared in my scholarship as an international influence or transnational participant. Despite superhero comic books being generally recognized as an “American art form,” I am compelled to view this characters as international presences by the global appeal of superheroes and the role of the US as world leader and cultural imperialist. Additionally, production of superhero texts outside of the US increases steadily every year.  Most importantly, the superhero archetype hardly began with Superman in 1938. The hero fetish is nearly universal. Every culture adopts myths because they serve a social function and the American Superhero is just one such phenomenon.

Despite their less-than-a-century legacy, superheroes have constructed multiple worlds in furious flurries of texts. Through prolific and considerably democratized production, superheroes populate multiverses within multiverses, balancing metanarratives in a spiderweb of perceptions and interpretations. Because of this, comic book history and comic book literary criticism is difficult. At the 2012 Dragon Con in Atlanta, I heard a very intelligent young women present her research on Watchmen and lead a discussion. I enjoyed her presentation and hope to see more of her work. When fielding questions from the crowd, the woman admitted to not having read the Before Watchmen series that been in publication over the past year. This disappointed me. Watchmen can be a limited universe; as a twelve-issue series, Watchmen can be identified as a single text, very practical for literary criticism. However, we’re talking comic books here- let’s have a little Death of the Author and let’s recognize context. A Watchmen historian sort of has it easy compared to scholars studying other superheroes because the text can be limited. However, Alan Moore drew from specific golden age characters and the negotiable essences of those characters must be included in the larger narrative. The film adaptation and the products licensed from both the comic and the film add additional concepts to be signified. The production of a film is much more collaborative the production of a comic as is the consumption. Much more than comic books, films serve a social function as the activity is more commonly shared. Licensed products acquire their meaning from how they are used as much as by how they are produced. Cosplay through store-bought or homemade costumes allows the reader to bring the text into their life by giving (lending) their life to the text, essentially sharing their most autonomous possession (their body) with the text. Of course, the Before Watchmen series are essentially fan-fictions, literal productions of the audience’s perception of the original text. In light of all of this, the Watchmen/Watchmen scholar has it easy compared to a scholar of a character like Superman or Wonder Woman in terms of a contained field. With such a large audience and so many cooks in the kitchen, icons such as Batman  require a consideration less common in literary criticism. Much like mythological figures like Zeus and Jesus, Shakespearean characters, or accepted archetypes, the heroes with ongoing titles who engage with their multiverse must be considered in several different contexts and a responsible scholar will attempt to understand how those contexts are similar to each other and how their differences contradict each other while defining the Platonic form of the character. Simply put, the task of the comic book historian is a daunting one. I have read a great deal, but still have mountains of reading to do. Likewise, people keep producing texts about their characters. Multiverses get rebooted and those reboots offer valuable revelations into the structure of the characters and the medium.

As I investigate these texts and consider their significance, this site will be used a platform for the scribblings and doodles of an intellectual with such a waning attention span that he uses picture books as his primary documents.

2) 

Loftily, I like imagine this site as a place where comic book enthusiasts, open-minded scholars, and general malcontents will find reprieve from the soul-sucking frivolity of a consumption-heavy life and celebrate the intoxicating frivolity of a production-heavy life. Laugh as you think. Think as you laugh. Freud studied jokes. Marshall McLuhan loved puns. Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, and other comedians are among the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. The internet spreads jokes and ideas almost as effortlessly as photographs of celebrities’ sexual organs. If you have found this page, you probably spend a bit of yr. time retrieving jokes and ideas and hopefully creating and proliferating them.

The world may end with a whimper or bang I don’t know, but I believe the world grows closer and stronger through laughter. Complicated elements of our imagined realities, particularly those elements defined by the inequalities they produce, require nothing short a paradigmatic shift to resolve themselves. This shift will come not only by good works, but by painful struggle, by sacrifice, by failure, by catastrophe; with all my hope and naivete, I believe humor, scholarship, and discourse accelerate the development of ideas, refining them by exposing contradictions and drawing attention to unnoticed or underestimated connections. Discourse needs to be accessible. Sequential art has proven itself as an effective resource in disseminating information. The medium can be found in religious tracts. Comics have frequently functioned as propaganda for both the status quo and social progressives. Internet memes and other widely circulated visual aphorisms communicate political ideas, illustrate rules, reinforce cultural assertions, and summarize large ideas through the assembly of visual and/or textual signs. Because of all this, sequential art is a noble calling and a great responsibility. In McLuhanite fashion, there is a message simply in how these ideas are produced and consumed. As comic books are an incredibly reactive business, the producers and consumers both accept a certain responsibility for the content and influence of the texts through their social and economic activity. If you purchase such gratuitously violent and sexual fare as superhero comic books, you condone and encourage its existence by recognizing, in a very material way, the value of the product. Enjoying such excesses of free speech warrants some responsibility. The decision to recognize these extremes as worthwhile content for art also forces the decision- I consume media that depicts violent or sexual extremes because their depictions further the development of our society or I consume media that depicts violent or sexual extremes because I desire violent or sexual extremes or at least consider them entertaining. Both truths can and probably should be accepted by the consumer of this media and these truths should encourage self-discovery and self-awareness, enriching the spiritual experience and improving citizenship. Not only do we struggle to find truth about ourselves to satisfy our insecurities, we should strive to improve the perceived truths around us by contributing to the discussion. Please excuse the fan-boy as social activist argument for its absurdity, but don’t discount the conflicted and organic democracy of the comic book industry or your role as consumer in it.

Advertisements